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AIBO - The Wonder Dog, AI, and a Fur Coat

I recently discovered a rare breed of dog called AIBO. It’s the perfect pedigree since it doesn’t shed, chew furniture, or bite. You don’t even have to take it for a walk. Sadly though, it will soon be extinct. 

You see AIBO is a robotic dog that Sony built back in 1999. They came in a variety of colors, were programmed to speak over 1,000 words, and some understood more than a 100 including Spanish. They could even wag their tails when pat on the head. Back then this was cutting edge technology. 

AIBO and friend

AIBO and friend

My first thoughts were this is crazy.   Why would grown people pay some $2000 for fake dogs? Then I watched a video of an elderly Japanese couple who had one.   They talked to it, played with it, walked it, and even put it to bed. Suddenly it all made sense. People weren’t just buying a dog. They were buying love. 

While people loved them, Sony’s profit and loss didn’t measure up. Instead of selling tens of millions they only sold about 150,000. So, in 2007 Sony stopped production and then in 2015 shut down their repair division. This was so devastating to “pet” owners they formed support groups to help each other deal with the prospect that their aging pets would break down for good. 

If you think that’s over the top, how about a full-blown ceremonial funeral? The lifeless AIBO’s are lined up on the altar while Buddhist priests chant prayers and owners pray for their souls. The formal ritual helps grieving owners deal with their loss as their beloved companions now become parts donors to other dogs.

For those who just can’t let go, there is cyber-vet Nobuyuki Norimatsu, a former Sony engineer. With a waitlist of some 200 dogs it can take several months at a minimum cost of $200, but owners don’t care. They just want their best friends healthy again. 
This cute little canine’s popularity grew world-wide. An AIBO was once featured on the sitcom Frasier and one US owner’s collection is worth $125,000 today. It’s a toy that changed the world. 

What’s in our future? Domestic pets could be replaced by robotic impostors by 2025 according to Australian researcher Dr. Jean-Loup Rault. “Robotic pets will take off in the next 10 to 15 years and tech companies are already jockeying for position in the market,” he said. 
First up is WowWee which debuts its Canine Home Intelligent Pet or “CHiP” this fall. Priced at $199, it brags to be the next best thing to a real dog. It can fetch, auto charge itself, wake you in the morning, and greet you at the door when you come home. These elemental basics are what satisfy a human’s need to have a real dog.   So if an animatronics could provide that same satisfaction then humans, who are innately anthropomorphic, could conceivably embrace them. This might explain why people became so attached to a plug-in pet like AIBO. 
Fast forward a few years and we’ve gone from toy bots to super bots so sophisticated and intelligent they could rule the universe. Today’s BOTS are hard core taskmasters designed to simplify and improve man’s life much like machines and automation did during the Industrial Revolution.   

Dog Bots making headlines are SPOT whose specialty is military maneuvers, bomb sniffing, and disaster rescue; mule-sized rugged terrain champ Big Dog who can run 4 mph and carry loads up to 350 lbs; and N003 a robotic guide dog for the blind. If you’re looking for help with chores or to bring you a beer, General Dynamic’s MiniSpot is at your service. 

If a human can fall in love with a fake dog, could they fall in love with a desk lamp? Don’t laugh. If you’re world-renowned robotics visionary Guy Hoffman the answer is yes. He believes humans can bond emotionally with a robot. His robots are far from humanoid in appearance, yet they become human-like through their movements. Hoffman says it’s their motion that makes humans feel emotion for them and want to treat them more like companions.   
In “Robots with Soul” you can see two of Hoffman’s robotic creations. There’s marimba player Shimon free-styling with a rapper and Travis, a 2-headed speaker jamming to music. What’s significant here is how all of a sudden the rapper engages in eye contact with the robot like he’s another musician.   And Travis goes from an odd looking robot to a cute little guy you want to hang with. 

An android world is driven by artificial intelligence. If robots get smarter than humans, will we become nothing more than a house pet? Those were recent comments made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. His solution is a neural mesh that fits on the brain to give it digital computing capabilities. He believes the two working together would let humans stay on pace with artificial intelligence. It’s all alien creepy, but maybe not so far-fetched. 
Ray Kurzweil - one of the world’s leading inventors, thinkers, futurists and now Google’s Director of Engineering - says that in 15 years computers are going to trump people. And that by 2045 they will be a billion times more powerful than all of the human brains on Earth.   He cites the AI revolution as the most profound transformation of human civilization we will ever experience. It will allow us to reprogram our own biology and manipulate matter at atomic and molecular levels. That kind of sci-fi supremacy means we’re in for a wild ride.

At this point though, no one knows for sure where this technology will lead us. But the Japanese have taken a huge step in pushing forward. They recently introduced Pepper, a talking humanoid robot that reads emotions and tells jokes when you are sad. It sold out of its initial 1,000 units in one minute back in June at a cost of around $1600 each. Robot staff is slowly going main stream being rolled out in stores, airports, and hotels throughout Japan.
President Hideo Sawada of the new Henn-na Hotel says, “In the future, we’d like to have more than 90 percent of hotel services operated by robots.   They will be capable of having conversations with humans.” But the technology doesn’t stop there. Guest room doors will open by facial recognition and instead of air conditioners a radiation panel will detect body heat and adjust a room’s temperature accordingly. You get all that for $60 to $119 dollars. Beat that Priceline!

Kurzweil believes the 21st century will achieve 1,000 times the progress of the 20th as technology continues to advance exponentially. Google will know the answer to your question before you ask it and it will have read every email or document you’ve ever written and every idle thought you’ve ever typed into a search-engine. It will know you better then you know yourself. That’s too scary a thought to even think about.

Like it or not, robots are the new reality and might be your next best friend. As artificial intelligence reinvents the universe, where do man and his dog fit in? By mid-century an increasingly urbanized world population of nearly 10 billion could mean that real animals will be a luxury only for the super-rich. 

Until then, I’m going to enjoy my humanness and treasure my Ms. Maru. I want to feel her fur coat, look into her soulful eyes, and hear that familiar annoying bark. While a robot dog can do many things, it can’t give you sloppy kisses that fill your heart with love. That’s the real deal. 

What is Music to a Dog’s Ear?

A soft spotlight illuminates the faded wood finish of the bar stool on stage. Oh, the stories it could tell. Looking around, I see everyone waiting for the magic to begin. Waiting for the moment when the music will give them a rush or maybe dull their pain.

I glance across the room and in the corner is Ms. Maru seated at a candle lit table with her head resting on her paws. I start freaking out. What is my dog doing in a jazz club?

Am I hallucinating? No, just dreaming. Before dialing a psychic or trying to conjure up Freud, I decide that I have enough CSI episodes under my belt to figure out what this bizarre dream means.

I do know my heightened stress has been triggered by a life changing event this year. I got engaged and while I’m extremely excited and happy, my anxiety levels are soaring off the chart. The only thing that calms me is music.

But it’s not just any kind of music but the indie instrumental jazz that my fiancé plays. Now that I think about it even high-strung Maru falls asleep listening to the rhythmic sounds of the heavy base. It’s so unlike her visceral reaction to rap . . . agitated pacing and frenzied barking.

Here’s the million dollar question. What is Music to a Dog’s Ear?

It’s not the lyrics or the melody. It’s all about familiar and unfamiliar sounds. Charles Snowdon, renowned primatologist and expert on animal sounds, believes that they enjoy “species-specific music.” That is they respond to tunes that have pitches, tones, and tempos unique and familiar to their own species.

This theory results from his groundbreaking research on Tamarin monkeys with musician David Teie. While immune to human music these primates respond to “monkey music” based on their vocal repertoire (ie monkey calls) which consists of two emotions:

1) Threats and Fear

2) Safe and Happy.

Their research showed that an upset monkey spoke in quick beats and ascending pitch while a calm monkey spoke in long notes and a descending pitch.

Here are some audio samples that illustrate these findings.

Cottontop Tamarin

 The Voice of the Cotton-Top Tamarin (courtesy, Charles Snowdon)

Sample 1
Upset monkey is mobbing a human - noisy sounds & upward-trending pitch.
Sample 2
Same monkey calmed down after couple minutes – pitch is now descending.
Sample 3
Same calmed down monkey – reduced 3 octaves to match the human range of hearing.  Notice the perfect musical intervals between the sounds.
Monkey Music (copyright, David Teie, University of Maryland)
Sample 4
Music based on fear and threat calls of the tamarin. Both the staccato beats and noise arouse anxious behavior.
Sample 5
A musical track that calms and soothes contains long, pure notes that use familiar musical scales.

It’s the same for humans. We enjoy music that falls within our acoustic & vocal ranges, use tones we understand and tempos that match our heart rates. A tune pitched too high or low sounds grating and music too fast or slow is unrecognizable.

So as much as we want to think our best friends share our taste in music, the bottom line is that dogs are simply not wired to enjoy the same songs we do.


Numerous research studies corroborate that dogs do, however, exhibit a common behavioral response to certain genres of music. One such study by Deborah Wells, an animal behaviorist at Queens University in Belfast, summed up universal findings:  

Snowdon argues that classical must be defined though because its range includes everything from the soothing “Moonlight Sonata” to the explosive “1812 Overture” with live shooting cannons. “It’s about the features of the music, not the classification,” he says.  

Further studies show:

  • Longer notes tend to be calming and staccato or short, repeated notes stimulating (think saying “sta-a-a-a-y” versus “Pup-pup-pup” when calling your dog to come)
  • A tempo matching an animal’s resting heart rate tends to be calming
  • Dogs are not very keen on certain percussion and wind instruments (like saxophones & clarinets) which remind them of gunshot sounds
  • They dislike the word “no” added into songs
  • Large dogs such as Labradors have vocal ranges similar to adult males. So, it's possible they might be responsive to music in our frequency range unlike a Chihuahua. 
  • Shelters

In 2012, psychologist Lori Kogan at Colorado State University not only replicated Wells findings in her study of kenneled dogs but discovered that adoptions increased in shelters that played classical music. Quiet dogs made for a more relaxing environment so people stayed longer.

  • Hospitals & Veterinarians

In another breakthrough discovery musician Alianna Boone found that hospitalized pups tend to have lower heart rates when harp music is played which makes them more relaxed and speeds up their recovery. And, classical music is being used by some Vets to keep dogs from being anxious during their office visits.


Humans hear up to 20,000 Hz while dogs hear up to 45,000 Hz. This doesn’t mean they hear twice as good but they can distinguish sounds at four times the range and hear frequencies twice that of humans.

Louisiana State University Professor George Strain charted hearing ranges for animals based on his own experimental studies.

  1.  Frequency Hearing Ranges in Dogs and Other Species

Turn Down the Volume

Did you know that dogs hear sounds of music much louder than humans? The pain threshold of noise is 125dB and the loudest rock concert is 130db – the same sound level as a jet engine. The fact that there are speakers now that can literally melt the wax in a human ear should make you think twice before cranking up the volume on a Saturday night. You could seriously damage your dog’s hearing.  


Are you a pet parent who feels guilty leaving your pup home alone? Do you keep your radio or iTunes streaming all day hoping he will be entertained and not so lonely? It’s all good.

Understanding what your dog needs is important. Knowing that he would rather listen to silence than Metallica or Brittney is a good first step. Now, what about those Mp3 players?

What does your dog hear when listening to digitally compressed music files? Unlike humans who can’t hear the broken sounds, they may process the so-called music as high frequency squeaks or loud mechanical noises from a car or train - both of which could frighten or at the very least irritate them. Knowing your audience is the key to providing good care.  

Can Dogs Really Sing?

Howling has a high-pitched piercing quality that can be found in lots of music. So while you think your dog is singing to a song he might be hearing what he thinks is another dog in the distance calling out to him and he’s just trying to answer back.

Howling is how dogs talk to each other which traces back to their wolf ancestry. Recordings of wolves have shown that each will change its tone when others join their group so they won’t sound alike.

That goes the same for dogs howling along with a group of singing humans. They purposely “sing” off key so they stand out. In fact, you can tell one dog from another by the tone of their howl. And, it’s not just high pitched music that can get a dog howling but high pitched sopranos, sirens and ringtones.

So, as much as we want to believe dogs can sing, they are really just howling in reaction to high pitched noises. Sorry Pet Parents! You may want to hold off booking that Hollywood agent.

Dog Fame

Check out Knuckles who found internet fame on You Tube with his video, “Knuckles the Dog Singing to Law and Order” which has over 38,000 views.

Veterinary neurologist Susan Wagner believes that it has more to do with higher-register notes in the theme song. “Dogs don’t like hearing high-pitched sounds. The higher pitched, upbeat and complex theme could make them howl. That would be my hypotheses,” she said. He may not really be singing, but he is so darn cute - it’s worth a click.

Or check out Xena ‘The Diva Dog’ who sang to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” on Belgium’s America’s Got Talent show. It’s a perfect example of howling. Oops! I mean singing.

Dogs on Broadway

A singing dog on the internet is one thing but entire musical scores written for dogs are over the top. Two well- known arrangements are: EXPEDITION, written by a Julliard composer and performed by a jazz trio and Siberian Husky & HOWL, a Carnegie Hall musical work performed by twenty voices and three dogs - written by Bette Midler’s arranger.  

How Many CD’s Does Your Dog Own?

If you think that's wild then think about an entire music industry catering to just canines. "Through a Dog's Ear" by Lisa Spector is one of the most popular CD's composed for dogs. These streamlined versions of classical pieces by the likes of Bach and Beethoven have minimal instrumentation and are recorded at a slower tempo with the higher frequency notes removed. 

Bioacoustic Research Inc. has sold more than 250,000 CD downloads of the album. But as mentioned earlier again there’s no evidence this so-called genetically modified music has any effect on a dog's behavior. In fact, in most cases they ignore it. Dogs seem to respond better to live music with pure tones. 

Dogs & Beatles

Want to impress your friends with a little trivia? Paul McCartney added the sound of a high frequency dog whistle to the end of “A Day in the Life” on the original vinyl release of the Sgt. Pepper album.  

The sound was never copied accurately onto CD’s because they don’t have the necessary frequencies. So if you want to have some fun, play the song and watch your dog’s reaction. They will be listening to the 15 KHz sound only they can hear.

So how does all this relate to my dream?

I guess it was my subconscious telling me what Maru instinctively already knew. I needed to calm down and quickly because I was ready to crash and burn. She made me realize that old saying “music soothes the savage beast” is true for both of us. While she and I may not be able to enjoy all the same kind of music, we are in complete harmony.

As a thank you treat to Maru I’m going to put on some old school vinyl with calming bass notes. We’re going to go belly up on the sofa and nod off into dreamland. But this time, I will be the one sitting in the corner of the jazz club with my head against my fiancé’s shoulder letting the music sweep me away.

It’s either that, or you’ll find me howling at the moon!

Happy Howlidays From Arrfscarf

What's better than being a pet parent? Well, for me it’s being a pet Santa to my pup Ms. Maru. It's true she hasn't asked to go see Santa Claus or given any thought to whether she's been naughty or nice. But seeing her eyes sparkle when she gets her special holiday treats, that's pure magic.

I confess to being one of the 75% of pet owners who buy Christmas gifts for their dogs. But, thank goodness I’m not one of the 66% that spend more on their pet than their partner. Research shows owners spend an average $46.00 and one hour shopping for their furry friends.  And, according to a recent poll, Americans spend some $5 billion each year buying Christmas presents for their pets.

Here are some of my favorites:

Pet Peek

Pet Peek

Dog Umbrella

Dog Umbrella

Custom Stuffed Dog

Custom Stuffed Dog

Pez for Petz

Pez for Petz


That’s a lot of sales and a lot of pet product choices. That’s why this year I'm having a hard time deciding on that one perfect gift… the one that lets her know how much I really love her.

Who wouldn't want one of these? Hmmmm.... maybe a dog! So i think again about what Maru would like, not me.

I knew right away. It’s not designer, high tech, or expensive. In fact, it’s something she already has. It’s her little pink purse that I got on sale a couple years ago.  She carries it everywhere and treasures it like it was an Hermes Birkin bag.

So while I may want to over indulge her, Maru reminds me that it’s really not about things shiny and new.  It’s about cherishing those gifts given with love. That’s the true spirit of Christmas.

Looks like she’s already got her perfect present!

Maru Xmas

Maru Xmas

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

The Arrfscarf Team